We have cleared the Mouse Hole! Once thru the tunnel, I leave the “to do” lists behind and enter travel mode. I am in the moment, finally relaxed, even enjoying being up before dawn, mesmerized by the puffs of fog that hover over the road, occasionally enveloping us, then clinging to the hillside as we pass through the mountains and down to Reno. All focus now is on making our flight.
We park and hop in a taxi for the short drive to the airport. The driver is friendly, asks where we are going, then tells us he has never been out of the country, but he is OK with that, “because people outside the U.S. hate Americans”. I am sad, and a little surprised, that this myth persists. Then he tells us that he loves to cook, and shares his insights on Italian culture – that they eat more slowly, enjoying the meal, instead of wolfing down their food on-the-run like Americans. At least he watches a few travel programs in between the “news”!
To get to the Caribbean from the West Coast, one must either fly a red eye, or over-night somewhere along the way. Having enjoyed my share of nights on the floors of airports, my dues had been paid. For this trip, I opted to blow a handsome sum on one night out in SoBe – South Beach Miami. Though I will never recommend this sort of travel (one night in a city), the splurge was worth it, this time (to avoid a 6 hour layover in Atlanta).
Ocean Drive is the main drag facing the beach, but dunes obstruct the view of the water from street level. One side is lined with restaurants and sidewalk tables, the other is a walking/bike path between the busy street and the sand.
The “block party” atmosphere goes on all night, so if you like to be right in the thick of things, then stay on Ocean, if not, get a hotel on Collins or Washington.
Eating is one of the main reasons to go to Miami. Ocean Drive is over-the-top touristy, and not the place to look for great food, but as virgin visitors with only 12 hours, we made the requisite lap through the chaos. Amazingly, we stumbled upon a good Cuban restaurant – Larios. A bit too touristy for me for dinner, but to sit at the bar for a bite, it was perfect – appetizers were very tasty, reasonably priced, and according to the Cuban couple sitting next to us, authentic! They also make great Mojitos, that were fairly priced.
That is NOT necessarily the case at other restaurants – a note of caution – some Ocean Drive bars like to serve ALL drinks in monster size goblets or hurricane glasses, and charge accordingly. If you want a regular rum and coke, in a normal glass, at a normal price, you better specify, otherwise you’ll get a $20. cocktail that takes 4 people to drink! My favorite thing about Ocean Drive was all of the live music – flamenco & latin jazz, that I’m guessing goes away after midnight when the techno and DJ’s take over?? Oh, and of course, the art deco architecture always gives you something colorful and interesting to admire.
Escaping the clamor of Ocean, we wandered into one of those chic, celebrity-chef-owned spots that I typically avoid in favor of more down-to-earth options, but the menu was right up our ally, the staff was welcoming, the ambiance relaxing, and the food was outstanding. AND, major draw, they served Jamon Iberico!!
For accommodations… The town was pretty booked, so I had to spend quite a bit of time online searching. The Hotel Impala had availability, I am guessing due to some bad reviews in 2011, but noticing they had just completed a remodeled, I took a chance. The risk paid off – the rooms are beautiful and the location is perfect – near the action, but set back with a quiet courtyard. My favorite feature was the Nespresso machine in every room! Being able to make a yummy latte in the room made the early morning rush to the airport much more pleasant!
Next Leg of the journey: St Lucia!